AFTER years of drought Lake Mead, the source of fresh water for the holiday hotspot, has hit its lowest level and Sin City is facing its biggest crisis.
But take a trip 25 miles southeast to Lake Mead, the massive reservoir created when the Hoover Dam was built across the Colorado River, and you get a striking visual wake-up call.
All around its 760 miles of rocky shoreline is a clearly defined line that locals call the “bathtub ring”.
Above it the rocks are brown and jagged but below they are shiny white. This is where the calcium in the water has stained the rocks – and the widening band of white is a powerful sign of how fast the level is dropping.
The lake, which supplies 90 per cent of the water to the two million residents of Las Vegas and its 43 million annual visitors, has been reduced by drought to the lowest level since it was filled in 1937 and is now at 39 per cent capacity. The surface reached a record high of 1,225ft above sea level in 1983 but is now at about 1,080ft. If the level drops below 1,050ft one of the two intakes that feed water to the city will become useless. Another 50ft and the other one would fail.
With the water level dropping by about a foot a week you can see why Professor Tim Barnett, climate scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California, recently warned: “The situation is as bad as you can imagine. It’s going to be screwed – and relatively quickly.
“Unless it can find a way to get more water from somewhere, Las Vegas is out of business.”
Most of the water from the Colorado River, which runs down to a trickle where it used to meet the Gulf of California, actually goes to agriculture.
Seven states share its waters and under an accord struck at a time when Las Vegas was still tiny, Nevada gets just two per cent.
Nowadays the city is expanding at a massive rate and the population has more than quadrupled since 1980. But the reason Lake Mead is so low is that for the past 12 years the south-west of the United States has been suffering one of its periodic droughts.
But meteorologist Mike Tsolinas, who writes about Las Vegas weather at miketsolinas.com, says it’s wrong to say Sin City is drying out. “Fortunately the Las Vegas Valley Water District is way ahead of the curve on this,” he says.
“At 1,000ft Lake Mead would not be able to provide any water to Las Vegas because our intake valves would be pumping air. However a new project at 875ft is already twothirds done. By the time that happens, should it ever, Las Vegas will still have water.
“So the city will not run dry soon. We have at least enough water for everyone to come play in for another 30 years or so.”
Full article: Is Las Vegas in danger of running out of water? (Daily Express)